SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How to Improve Your ACT Reading Score: 8 Expert Tips

Posted by Allen Cheng | Feb 25, 2016 9:00:00 AM

ACT Strategies, ACT Reading

 

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Are you struggling with ACT Reading scores between 14-24? You're not alone - hundreds of thousands of students are scoring in this range. But many don't know the best ways to break out of this score range and score a 26 or above.

Here we'll discuss how to improve your ACT Reading score effectively, and why it's so important to do so. Unlike other fluffy articles out there, I'm focusing on actionable strategies that will raise your score. Put these 8 strategies to work and I'm confident you'll be able to improve your score.

Brief note: This article is tailored for lower-scoring students, currently scoring below a 26 on ACT Reading. If you're already above this range, my perfect 36 ACT Reading score article is more appropriate for you as it contains advanced strategies. 

In this article, I'm going to discuss why scoring high is a good idea, what it takes to score a 26, and then go into ACT Reading tips and strategies.

Stick with me - this is like building a house. First you need to lay a good foundation before putting up the walls of the house and pretty windows. Similarly, we need to first understand why you're doing what you're doing, before diving into tips and strategies.

In this guide, I talk mainly about getting to a 26. But if your goal is a 24 or lower, these concepts still equally apply to how you should study.

 

Understand the Stakes

At this ACT score range, improving your ACT Reading score to a 26 range will dramatically boost your chances of getting into better colleges.

Let's take a popular school, University of California Riverside, as an example.

Its average ACT score is a 23 out of 36. Its 25th percentile score is a 20, and 75th percentile is an 26.

Furthermore, its acceptance rate is 60%. In other words, a bit over half of all applicants are admitted. But the lower your scores, the worse your chances.

In our analysis, if you score around a 20, your chance of admission drops to 43%, or less than 1/2 chance.

But if you raise your score to a 26, your chance of admission goes up to 75% - a really good chance of admission! And the higher your score gets, the more certain you are to get in.

So improving your ACT composite score by 5 points makes a HUGE difference in your chances of getting into your target colleges. And improving your ACT Reading score will bump up your average composite score.

For the Reading section, this is especially true if you want to apply to humanities majors and programs, like English or communications. They expect your Reading score to be strong, and if you score low, they'll doubt your ability to do college-level humanities work.

Even if you're a math superstar and are applying to a science major, they still need to know that you can process difficult texts at a college level. A low Reading score will cast a huge doubt on you.

It's really worth your time to improve your ACT score. Hour for hour, it's the best thing you can do to raise your chance of getting into college.

Curious what chances you have with a 26 ACT score? Check out our expert college admissions guide for a 26 ACT score.

 

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Know that You Can Do It

This isn't just supposed to be a vague happy-go-lucky message you see in a fortune cookie.

I mean, literally, you and every other student can do this.

In my work with PrepScholar, I've worked with thousands of students scoring in the lower ranges of 14-20.

Time after time, I see students who beat themselves up over their low score and think improving it is impossible. "I know I'm not smart." "I just can't read passages quickly, and I don't know how to improve my ACT Reading score." "I was never good at English, and my English teachers have never told me I did a good job."

It breaks my heart.

Because I know that more than anything else, your ACT score is a reflection of how hard you work and how smartly you study.

Not your IQ and not your school grades. Not how Mr. Crandall in 10th grade gave you a C on your essay.

 

ACT Reading is Designed to Trick You. You Need to Learn How

Here's why: the ACT is a weird test. When you take it, don't you feel like the questions are different from what you've seen in school?

I bet you've had this problem: in ACT Reading passages, you often miss questions because of an 'unlucky guess.' You'll try to eliminate a few answer choices, and the remaining answer choices will all seem equally likely to be correct.

Well, you throw up your hands and randomly guess.

The ACT is purposely designed this way to confuse you. Literally millions of other students have the exact same problem you do. And the ACT loves this.

Normally in your school's English class, the teacher tells you that all interpretations of the text are valid. You can write an essay about anything you want, and English teachers aren't usually allowed to tell you that your opinion is wrong. They can get in trouble for telling you what to think, and they feel bad restricting your creativity.

But the ACT has an entirely different problem. It's a national test, which means it needs a level playing field for all students around the country. It's even used in many states as a state-wide standardized test. This means the test needs to be rock solid. Every question needs a single, unambiguously, 100% correct answer.

 

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There's only ever one correct answer. Find a way to eliminate 3 incorrect answers.

 

Imagine if this weren't the case. Imagine that a reading question had two answer choices that might each be plausibly correct. When the scores came out, every single student who got the question wrong would complain to the ACT about the test being wrong.

If this were true, the ACT would then have to throw out the question, which is a huge hassle. Have too many of these incidents, and there would be a big scandal about the ACT failing to do its job.

The ACT wants to avoid this nightmare scenario. Therefore, every single Reading passage question has only one, single correct answer.

This is an important concept to remember. It makes your life a lot easier - all you have to do is eliminate the 3 wrong answer choices to get the single right answer choice.

But the ACT purposely disguises this fact to make life more difficult. It asks questions like:

  1. It can reasonably be inferred that:
  2. Which of the following best describes:
  3. The author's contemporaries for the most part believed:

Notice a pattern here? The ACT always disguises the fact that there's always one unambiguous answer. It tries to MAKE you waver between two or three answer choices that are most likely.

And then you guess randomly.

And then you get it wrong.

 

You can bet that students fall for this. Millions of times every year.

Students who don't prepare for the ACT in the right way don't appreciate this. BUT if you prepare for the ACT in the right way, you'll learn the tricks the ACT plays on you. And you'll raise your score.

The ACT Reading section is full of patterns like these. To improve your score, you just need to:

  • learn the types of questions that the ACT tests, like the one above
  • learn strategies to solve these questions, using skills you already know
  • practice on a lot of questions so you learn from your mistakes

The point is that you can learn these skills, even if you don't consider yourself a good reader or a great English student. I'll go into more detail about exactly how to do this. 

First, let's see how many questions you need to get right.

 

What It Takes to Get a 26 in ACT Reading

If we have a target score in mind, it helps to understand what you need to get that score on the actual test. Remember that we're aiming for a Reading test score of 26, out of 36.

Here's the raw score to ACT Reading Score conversion table. (If you could use a refresher on how the ACT is scored and how raw scores are calculated, read this guide.)

 

Raw Scaled Raw Scaled Raw Scaled Raw Scaled
40 36 29 26 19 19 9 12
39 35 28 25 18 18 8 11
38 34 27 24 17 17 7 10
37 33 26 23 16 16 6 10
36 32 25 23 15 16 5 8
35 32 24 22 14 15 4 7
34 31 23 21 13 14 3 6
33 30 22 21 12 14 2 4
32 29 21 20 11 13 1 2
31 28 20 19 10 12 0 1
30 27            

 

 Notice that if you're aiming for a 26 in ACT Reading, you need a raw score of 29/40. This is a 72% score.

This has serious implications for your testing strategy. In essence, you only need to answer about 3/4 of all questions right. We'll go into more detail below about what this means for your testing strategy below.

Whatever you're scoring now, take note of the difference you need to get to a 26. For example, if you're scoring a 20, you need to answer about 8 more questions right throughout the ACT Reading section to get to a 26.

Once again, if your goal is a 20, the same analysis applies. Just find your target raw score using the chart above.

 

OK - so we've covered why scoring a higher ACT Reading score is important, why you're fully capable of improving your score, and the raw score you need to get to your target. I hope a lot of this was useful and changed how you think about your ACT prep.

Now we'll actually get into real, working strategies that you should use in your own ACT Reading studying.

 

8 Strategies to Improve Your Low ACT Reading Score

Strategy 1: Save Time On Reading Passages. Switch Your Reading Strategy

From the thousands of students I've worked with, by far the most common problem people have with ACT Reading passages is that they keep running out of time before they can get through all the questions.

This is a problem, because unlike ACT Math, the passage questions aren't arranged in order of difficulty. Therefore, by not completing all the questions in time, you might miss some easy questions at the end that you would have gotten right. If only you'd had enough time.

What's the cause of this? The most common one I see is that students are reading the passages in far more detail than they need to. Once again, this is caused by what you learn in English class in school. In English, you've probably gotten (stupid) tests that quiz you about what Madame Bovary said in a particular scene, or what color Tom's t-shirt was. So of course you've learned to pay attention to every single detail.

The ACT is different. For a passage that's 90 lines long, there will be only 10 questions. Many of these don't even refer to specific lines - they talk about the point of the passage as a whole, or about the tone of the author.

The number of questions that focus on small, line-by-line details is low. Therefore, it's a waste of time to read a passage line-by-line, afraid that you'll miss a detail they'll ask you about.

 

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The best way to read a passage: skimming it on the first read-through.
 

This is why I recommend ALL students try this ACT Reading passage strategy:

  • Skim the passage on the first read through. Don't try to understand every single line, or write notes predicting what the questions will be. Just get a general understanding of the passage. You want to try to finish reading the passage in 3 minutes, if possible.
  • Next, go to the questions. If the question refers to a line number, then go back to that line number and understand the text around it.
  • If you can't answer a question within 30 seconds, skip it. (More on this strategy later).

 

This is important because the questions will ask about far fewer lines than the passage actually contains. For example, lines 5-20 of a reading passage might not be relevant to any question that follows. Therefore, if you spend time trying to deeply understand lines 5-20, you’ll be wasting time.

Some students even take this strategy to the extreme. They'll read the questions first before the passage. If a line refers to any specific lines, they'll mark those on the passage. This then gives them a guide to focus on important lines when they're reading the passage.

Different strategies work for different students. You need to try each one and see which one leads to the best results for you. But by and large, I'm confident that you're spending way too much reading the passage.

Bonus: here's a detailed step-by-step guide on how to read the ACT Reading passage.

 

Strategy 2: Learn to Eliminate The 3 Wrong Answers

I talked above about how the ACT always has one unambiguous answer. This has a huge implication for the strategy you should use to find the right ACT Reading answer.

Here's the other way to see it: Out of the 4 answer choices, 3 of them have something that is totally wrong about them. Only 1 answer is 100% correct, which means the other 3 are 100% wrong.

You know how you try to eliminate answer choices, and then end up with a few at the end that all seem equally likely to be correct?

You're not doing a good enough job of eliminating answer choices. Remember - every single wrong choice can be crossed out for its own reasons.

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You have to learn how to eliminate 4 answer choices for every single question. 

 

"Great, Allen. But this doesn't tell me anything about HOW to eliminate answer choices."

Thanks for asking. There are a few classic wrong answer choices the ACT loves to use. Here's an example question.

For example, let’s imagine you just read a passage talking about how human evolution shaped the environment. It gives a few examples. First, it talks about how the transition from earlier species like Homo habilus to neanderthals led to more tool usage like fire, which caused wildfires and shaped the ecology. It then talks about Homo sapiens 40,000 years ago and their overhunting of species like woolly mammoths to extinction.

Sounds like a plausible passage - it fits into that weird style of ACT Reading passage that is oddly specific about a topic you've never thought about before.

So then we run into a question asking, "Which of the following best describes the main subject of the passage?" Here are the answer choices:

  • A: The transition between Homo habilus and neanderthals
  • B: The study of evolution
  • C: How the environment shaped human evolution
  • D: The plausibility of evolution
  • E: The influence of human development on ecology

(We're using 5 answer choices for illustration, even though the ACT only has 4 choices)

As you're reading these answer choices, a few of them probably started sounded really plausible to you.

Surprise! Each of the answers from A-D has something seriously wrong about it. Each one is a classic example of a wrong answer type given by the ACT.

 

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Wrong Answer 1: Too Specific

A: The transition between Homo habilus and neanderthals

This type of wrong answer focuses on a smaller detail in the passage. It’s meant to trick you because you might think to yourself, "well, I see this mentioned in the passage, so it’s a plausible answer choice."

Wrong! Think to yourself – can this answer choice really describe the entire passage? Can it basically function as the title of this passage? You’ll find that it’s just way too specific to convey the point of the overall passage.

 

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Wrong Answer 2: Too Broad

B: The study of evolution

This type of wrong answer has the opposite problem – it’s way too broad. Yes, theoretically the passage is about the study of evolution, but only one aspect of it (human evolution), and especially as it relates to the impact on the environment.

To give another crazy example - let's say you talked to your friend about losing your cell phone. Then he says your main point was about the universe. Yes, you were talking about the universe (because you're a part of the universe just like everyone else), but only a tiny, tiny fraction of it. This is way too broad.

 

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Wrong Answer 3: Reversed Relationship

C: How the environment shaped human evolution

This wrong answer choice can be tricky because it mentions all the right words. But of course the relationship between those words needs to be correct as well. Here, the relationship is flipped. The passage is about how HUMANS affected the ENVIRONMENT, not the reverse. Students who read too quickly make careless mistakes like these because all the words sound right!

 

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Wrong Answer 4: Unrelated Concept

D: The plausibility of evolution

Finally, this kind of wrong answer preys on the tendency of students to overthink the question. If you’re passionate about arguing about evolution in your personal life, this might be a trigger answer since ANY discussion of evolution becomes a chance to argue about the plausibility of evolution. Of course, this concept will appear nowhere in the passage, but some students just won’t be able to resist.

 

Do you see the point? On the surface, each of the answer choices sounds possibly correct. But possibly isn't good enough. The right answer needs to be 100%, totally right. Wrong answers might be off by even one word - you need to eliminate these.

Carry this thought into every ACT Reading passage question you do.

 

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Next strategy: find your weak links and fix them.
 

Strategy 3: Find Your Reading Skill Weaknesses and Drill Them

Reading passage questions might look similar, but they actually test very different skills. At PrepScholar we believe the major passage skills to be:

  1. Big Picture/Main Point
  2. Little Picture/Detail
  3. Vocabulary in Context
  4. Inferences
  5. Author Function

That's a good number of skills! More than is obvious when you're reading the passage.

Each of these question types uses different skills in how you read and analyze a passage. They each require a different method of prep and focused practice.

If you're like most students, you're better at some areas in Reading than others. You might be better at getting the Big Picture of a passage, compared to an Inference. Or you might be really strong at understanding author tone, but weak in understanding the meaning of a phrase in context.

If you're like most students, you also don't have an unlimited amount of time to study. You have a lot of homework, you might be an athlete or have band practice, and you have friends to hang out with.

This means for every hour you study for the ACT, it needs to be the most effective hour possible.

In concrete terms, you need to find your greatest areas of improvement and work on those.

Too many students study the 'dumb' way. They just buy a book and read it cover to cover. When they don't improve, they're SHOCKED.

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I'm not.

Studying effectively for the ACT isn't like painting a house. You're not trying to cover all your bases with a very thin layer of understanding.

What these students did wrong was they wasted time on subjects they already knew, and they didn't spend enough time on their weaknesses.

Instead, studying effectively for the ACT is like plugging up the holes of a leaky boat. You need to find the biggest hole, and fill it. Then you find the next biggest hole, and you fix that. Soon you'll find that your boat isn't sinking at all.

How does this relate to ACT Reading? You need to find the sub-skills that you're weakest in, and then drill those until you're no longer weak in them. Fixing up the biggest holes.

Within reading, you need to figure out whether you have patterns to your mistakes. Is it that you're running out of time in reading passages? Or that you don't get Inference questions? Or maybe you're really weak at interpreting details?

For every question that you miss, you need to identify the type of question it is. When you notice patterns to the questions you miss, you then need to find extra practice for this subskill.

Say you miss a lot of inference questions (this is typically the hardest type of question for students to get). You need to find a way to get focused practice questions for this skill so you can drill your mistakes.

Bonus: If all of this is making sense to you, you'd love our ACT prep program, PrepScholar.

We designed our program around the concepts in this article, because they actually work. When you start with PrepScholar, you’ll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty ACT skills - in Reading, English, Math, and Science. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you.

To improve each skill, you’ll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

There’s no other prep system out there that does it this way, which is why we get better score results than any other program on the market.

Check it out today with a 5-day free trial:

ACT Free Signup

 

Strategy 4: Only Use High Quality ACT Reading Sources

ACT Reading passages are VERY specific in how they work. ACT Reading questions are VERY specifically phrased and constructed to have bait answers.

If you want to improve your Reading score, you HAVE to use realistic ACT Reading sources. If you don't, you'll develop bad habits and train the wrong skills.

Think about it like this: let's say you're trying out for the baseball team. Instead of practicing with real baseballs, you decide to practice with Wiffle balls instead. It seems a lot cheaper and easier, and hitting the ball makes you feel good.

So you train and train and train on Wiffle ball. You understand how the Wiffle ball curves when it's thrown, how to hit it, and how to throw it.

Then you try out for the baseball team. A pitch comes - it's way faster than you've ever practiced with before. It doesn't curve like a Wiffle ball does.

Swing and a miss.

You've trained on the wrong thing, and now you're totally unprepared for baseball.

body_600reading_wiffle.jpgThis is not real baseball.

ACT Reading works the exact same way. Train on badly written tests, and you'll develop bad habits and bad strategies.

The very, very best sources for ACT Reading passages is the Official ACT TestsThis is why as part of PrepScholar, we include official practice tests to gauge your progress and train you on the real thing.

There's only a limited number of these, though - 5 free tests online, and 5 in the official ACT prep guide. To have enough questions to practice on, you'll need to find other sources of questions.

The first suggestion is to use prep resources customized for the ACT. Be careful, though - most companies release really poor quality passages and questions (most books you see on ACT Reading are pretty terrible).

This is especially harmful for ACT Reading because the style of passage and what questions are asked are complex, as opposed to ACT Math which is more straightforward.

To write realistic questions, you need to understand the test inside and out. That's why at PrepScholar, we've created what I believe are the highest quality Reading questions available anywhere. This is what we've done:

  • we've deconstructed every available official ACT Practice Test, question by question, answer choice by answer choice. We've statistically studied every question type on the test and we understand exactly how questions are phrased and how wrong answer choices are constructed. 

  • as head of product, I'm responsible for content quality. I hire only the most qualified content writers to craft our test content. This means people who have scored perfect scores on the ACT, have hundreds of hours of ACT teaching experience, and have graduated from Ivy League schools.

This results in the most realistic, highest quality ACT Reading questions. 

Even if you don't use PrepScholar, you should be confident that whatever resource you DO use undergoes the same scrutiny as we do. If you're not sure, or you see reviews saying otherwise, then avoid it.

I talk about my favorite ACT Reading books here.

 

Strategy 5: Don't Focus on Vocab Studying

Vocab gets way too much attention from students. It feels good to study vocab flashcards, because it seems like you're making progress. "I studied 1,000 vocab words - this must mean I improved my score!"

This is why other test prep programs love teaching you vocab - you feel like you're learning something and it's worth your money. But it's not clear that learning vocab isn't helping you until it's too late.

Fortunately, vocab doesn't play more than a minor role in your ACT Reading score.

This has always been less of a problem for the ACT than the SAT, which used to feature vocab-heavy Sentence Completion questions. Thankfully the SAT removed these questions.

But still - a lot of students look for ACT vocab lists to study with, and it's just not a good use of time.

The only real questions you'll need to use vocab skills for are the Vocab in Context questions. Here's an example:

As it is used in line 13, the word popular  most nearly means:

A) well liked
B) commonly known
C) scientifically accepted
D) most admired

 

Wait..."popular?" They're asking a question about "popular?"

Yes - it's a common word, and the key to this question is understanding how it's used IN CONTEXT. "Popular" can mean all the things listed in the answer choices, but only one of them is correct.

Here's the source sentence:

It includes the area known in popular legend as the Bermuda Triangle.

In this case, "popular" is used to describe a legend that's well known, so answer choice B is the best choice. 

 Here are examples of words that you need to understand in context in the ACT:

  • adopted
  • concentrated
  • humor
  • nostalgia
  • read
  • something

These are all reasonable words that you've probably heard before. The trick to these questions is actually understanding how it's used in the passage, not what you think it means.

So don't waste your time studying vocab, and think twice before being convinced by someone that it's a good use of your time.

 

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Don't study vocab - most likely, it's not the best use of your time.

 

That time is far better spent learning how to deal with Reading passages better. There are so many more questions about passages that it's a better use of your time to learn passage strategy and how to answer reading questions.

 

Strategy 6: Skip the Most Difficult, Time-Consuming Questions

Here's an easy strategy most students don't do enough.

Remember what I said above about raw score? To score a 26, you only need a raw score of 29 out of 40 questions. This varies from test to test, but it's pretty consistent.

What does this mean? You can completely guess on 15 questions, get 4 of them right by chance, and still score a 26.

Once again - you can completely GUESS on almost 40% of all questions and still hit your goal!

 

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Skip questions carefree - like this woman.

 

Why is this such a powerful strategy? 

It gives you way more time on easy and medium difficulty questions - the questions you have a good chance of getting right.

If you're usually pressed for time on your ACT Reading section, this will be a huge help.

Here's an example. On the Reading section, you get 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. This is usually pretty hard for most students to get through - it's just 52 seconds to answer each question, including the time it takes to read each passage.

The average student will try to push through all the questions. "I've got to get through them all, since I've got a shot at getting each question right," they think. Along the way, they'll probably rush and make careless mistakes on questions they SHOULD have gotten right. And then they spend 5 minutes on really hard questions, making no progress and wasting time.

Wrong approach.

Here's what I suggest instead. Try each question, but skip it after 30 seconds of not getting anywhere. Unlike math, the Reading passage questions aren't ordered in difficulty, so you can't tell right away which questions are harder or easier. You need to try each one, but then skip it if it's costing you time.

By doing this, you can raise your time per easy/medium question to 100 seconds per question or more. This is huge! It's a 100% boost to the time you get per question. This raises your chances of getting easy/medium questions right.

And the questions you skipped? They're so hard you're honestly better off not even trying them. These questions are meant for 30-36 scorers. If you get to a 26, then you have the right to try these questions. Not before you to get to 26.

How do you tell which questions are going to take you the most time? This varies from person to person, but here are a few common question types:

  • questions without a line number that make you hunt for a detail: You can spend a lot of time re-reading the passage looking for the detail, if you don't remember where something was mentioned.

  • EXCEPT questions: These are designed to waste your time. They'll ask something like,"The author mentions all of these details EXCEPT:" and your job is to find which 3 are mentioned and which 1 isn't. 
  • inference questions that ask you what the author most likely meant: These are usually quite difficult because it takes multiple steps: 1) what did the author explicitly say in the passage? 2) what does the author most likely mean?

But don't just take my word for it. You need to figure out your own weaknesses after doing a lot of practice. They might not be the same question types as the ones above.

Try to practice your Reading prep with this in mind. If you notice yourself getting stuck on a question, notice what TYPE of question it is, and see if there's a pattern where you always get stuck on that question type.

 

Strategy 7: Understand All Your Reading Mistakes

Every mistake you make on a test happens for a reason. If you don't understand exactly why you missed a question, you will make that mistake over and over again.

Think about it like learning how to cook. The first time you learn to chop vegetables, you might cut your finger accidentally. Ouch - that hurts. You quickly learn from your mistakes - keep your fingers away from the knife and hold the knife differently. If you don't learn from your mistake, you'll keep cutting your finger, over and over again.

Why would you treat ACT prep any differently?

Too many students scoring at the 18-24 level refuse to study their mistakes.

It's not fun. I get it. It sucks to stare your mistakes in the face. It's draining to learn skills you're not good at.

So the average student will skip reviewing their mistakes and instead focus on areas they're already comfortable with. It's like cozying up in a warm blanket. Their thinking goes like this: "So I'm good at Big Picture questions? I should do more Big Picture problems! They make me feel good about myself."

The result? NO SCORE IMPROVEMENT.

You don't want to be like these students. So here's what you need to do:

  • on every practice test or question set that you take, mark every question that you're even 20% unsure about

  • when you grade your test or quiz, review every single question that you marked, and every incorrect question. This way even if you guessed a question correctly, you'll make sure to review it.

  • in a notebook, write down the gist of the question, why you missed it, and what you'll do to avoid that mistake in the future. Have separate sections by subject and sub-topic (eg Big Picture, Little Picture, Inference)

It's not enough to just think about it and move on. It's not enough to just read the answer explanation. You have to think hard about why you specifically failed on this question.

For Reading Passage questions, you MUST find a way to eliminate every single incorrect answer. If you were stuck between two answer choices, you MUST review your work to figure out why you couldn't eliminate the wrong answer choice.

If you don't do this, I guarantee you will NOT make progress.

But if you do take this, structured approach to your mistakes, you'll now have a running log of every question you missed, and your reflection on why.

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No excuses when it comes to your mistakes.

 

Strategy 8: Guess on Every Question You Don't Know

You probably already know this one, but if you don't, you're about to earn some serious points.

The ACT has no guessing penalty. That means you have no reason NOT to guess and fill up every blank in your answer sheet.

Before you finish the section, make sure every blank question has an answer filled in. You do not want to look at your answer sheet and see any blank questions.

For every question you're unsure about, make sure you guess as best you can. If you can eliminate just one answer choice, that gives you a much better shot at getting it right - from 25% to 33%.

If you have no idea, just guess! You have a 25% chance of getting it right.

Most people know this strategy already, so if you don't do this, you're at a SERIOUS disadvantage. 

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Quick Tip: Bubbling Answers

Here's a bubbling tip that will save you a few minutes per section.

When I first started test taking in high school, I did what many students do: after I finished one question, I went to the bubble sheet and filled it in. Then I solved the next question. Finish question 1, bubble in answer 1. Finish question 2, bubble in answer 2. And so forth.

This actually wastes a lot of time. You're distracting yourself between two distinct tasks - solving questions, and bubbling in answers. This costs you time in both mental switching costs and in physically moving your hand and eyes to different areas of the test.

Here's a better method: solve all your questions first in the book, then bubble all of them in at once.

This has several huge advantages: you focus on each task one at a time, rather than switching between two different tasks. You also eliminate careless entry errors, like if you skip question 7 and bubble in question 8's answer into question 7's slot.

By saving just 5 seconds per question, you get back 200 seconds on an ACT Reading section, giving you 3.5 minutes. This is huge! It can buy you time to solve 3 more questions, which will dramatically improve your score.

Note: Be careful! You do NOT want to run out of time before you've bubbled in all your answers. Definitely make sure you bubble in your answers to that point with at least 10 minutes remaining. If the proctor calls time and you haven't bubbled in any answers yet, you're going to get a 1.

 

In Overview

Those are the main strategies I have for you to improve your ACT Reading score. If you're scoring a 12, you can improve it to an 18. If you're scoring a 20, you can boost it to a 26. I guarantee it - if you put in the right amount of work, and study like I'm suggesting above.

The main point: you need to understand where you're falling short, and drill those weaknesses continuously. You also need to be thoughtful about your mistakes and leave no mistake ignored.

This is really important to your future. Make sure you give ACT prep the attention it deserves, before it's too late, and you get a rejection letter you didn't want.

If you want to go back and review any of the strategies, here's a quick listing:

Strategy 1: Save Time On Reading Passages. Switch Your Reading Strategy
Strategy 2: Learn to Eliminate 3 Wrong Answers
Strategy 3: Find Your Reading Skill Weaknesses and Drill Them
Strategy 4: Only Use High Quality ACT Reading Sources
Strategy 5: Don't Focus on Vocab Studying
Strategy 6: Skip the Most Difficult, Time-Consuming Questions
Strategy 7: Understand All Your Reading Mistakes
Strategy 8: Guess on Every Question You Don't Know

 

What's Next?

We have a lot more useful guides to raise your ACT score.

Learn the #1 Fundamental, Most Important Strategy for ACT Reading. It's an expansion of one of the strategies in this guide.

Curious how to prep to get a perfect ACT Reading score? Read our 36 ACT Reading guide.

What's a good ACT score for you? Read our detailed guide on figuring out your ACT target score.

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points? We have the industry's leading ACT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and ACT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

ACT Free Signup

 

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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT.



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